Father of the Bride
Columbia Records · May 3, 2019
Father of the Bride is not a great Vampire Weekend album, but Koenig et. al have plenty of great music left in them.
It’s been over two years since Ezra Koenig first teased Vampire Weekend’s fourth album (then titled Mitsubishi Macchiato) on his Instagram. Modern Vampires of the City, their triumphant third album was already a pleasant memory from a bygone era. Rostam, a core band member and producer of the band’s first three records had left the previous year. As years passed and anticipation built for what would eventually become Father of the Bride, one question floated through my and countless other fans’ heads again and again: what does Vampire Weekend sound like now?
The wait is finally over, and we still don’t have an answer. The first two singles, “Harmony Hall” and “2021” couldn’t have been more different and ended up being better representatives of the album as a whole than could have been expected. The first, a dancey lite-rock anthem which quoted the Modern Vampires track “Finger Back,” was easy to mistake as an indicator for the album as a whole. Catchy, expansive, and wise beyond its years without being as cryptic as the material on past albums, it was easy to welcome. “2021,” was a thoughtful, MUJI-sampling rumination on the passage of time. Clocking under two minutes and placed in a serene, digital landscape, it appeared to be a deep album oddity. Vampire Weekend were able to release six solid singles (a third of the album) without giving the whole thing away. The rest of the album included a slew of diverse and memorable tracks, including Steve Lacy-featuring “Flower Moon,” and the gorgeous ballads “My Mistake” and “Jerusalem, New York, Berlin.” Then there were the duds like “How Long” and “Rich Man,” and then there were the Danielle Haim duets.
Let’s talk about those Danielle Haim duets. They must have been a lot more fun to record than they are to listen to. For fans of both Vampire Weekend and HAIM, there’s a certain thrill to hearing the two on a track together, but sadly they have no vocal chemistry whatsoever. Koenig’s boyish tenor and Haim’s strained soulfulness fight against each other when placed back-to-back (although they are surprisingly compatible in harmony). While there’s a rich history of contrasting voices making for great duets, there’s something off-putting about the ones on this album; it’s almost like watching a movie where two siblings have different accents. It also doesn’t help that the songs they share are not particularly good. The endless back and forth of their verses (it’s hard to believe that all of the duets are under four minutes) are one-dimensional and tiresome. It’s disappointing to see what could have been such a treat turn out the way it did, and it’s hard to see what these songs were supposed to add to this album.
The other change in personnel that must be discussed is the departure of Rostam. The multi-instrumentalist and producer makes appearances on a few tracks of Father of the Bride, but he is no longer a constant presence. Taking over behind the board is Ariel Rechstaid, who co-produced Modern Vampires and has credits on discographies ranging from Adele to Charli XCX to Snoop Lion. Losing Rostam to a “pop guy” was deservedly cause for alarm, but this still sounds like a Vampire Weekend album through and through. The arrangements are still endlessly clever and playful, and if you put this on during a car ride with your parents, they will still say it sounds like Paul Simon (I have proof of this). Perhaps the greatest effect of Rostam’s departure is felt on the wholistic level. The unique, cohesive musical landscape of Modern Vampires is nowhere to be found on Father of the Bride, where songs go together like cable-knit sweaters and Tevas.
This brings us back to our original question: what does Vampire Weekend sound like now (besides Paul Simon)? Are they a dad-rockers like “Sunflower” and “This Life” would lead us to believe? Are they a laptop band? What are the duets doing here? Sure, the fact that this album is all over the place is part of the fun, but it sets a bad precedent when an album that was nearing “comeback” territory feels built to let off steam.
In numerous interviews, Ezra Koenig explained how he felt it would be wrong to return from such a long hiatus with a 10-track album. What was an honest attempt to share something worthy of the years of their absence turned out to be the biggest mistake. The result sounds timid and bloated, not complete. There are as many skip-tracks as precious moments to discover deep in the album. What redeems Father of the Bride is how excellent a large fraction of its 18 tracks are. Father of the Bride is not a great Vampire Weekend album, but Koenig et. al have plenty of great music left in them.